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I have read various opinions on this subject, and my English professor told me that:

When the definite article is used, it indicates the period itself, like:

I will do it in the next week

= in the seven days from now (might be from Tuesday till Tuesday).

Next year - 2019. In the next year: in 12 months from now, so in April 2019.

I will meet you next week. //next week, might be tomorrow if today is Saturday
I will meet you in the next week. //in the next 7 days

Is that correct?

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  • You are much more likely to see "within a week" than "in the next week". – Spencer Apr 13 '18 at 13:06
  • I think the most common distinction is that unless there's a preposition (as in He will do it during the next week) we don't include the article when next [time-period] is a reference relative to now = time of utterance. When it's relative to some other "narrative time", such as He arrived the next day, we do include the article. – FumbleFingers Apr 13 '18 at 13:07
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    @FumbleFingers He will do it next year (any time in 2019), He will do it in the next year (from now till April 2019), isn't that so? – John V Apr 13 '18 at 13:08
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    Yes. But that distinction is as much a matter of whether you include in as whether you include the. Take He promised he'd do it the [very] next week, for example. By default I'd assume this refers to the calendar week starting immediately after the one in which he made the promise (i.e. - if that was on a Monday he could still keep his promise even if he didn't do it until 13 days later). But if we included in there, he'd have to deliver on his promise within 7 days of making it. – FumbleFingers Apr 13 '18 at 13:48
  • @FumbleFingers Thanks, that was helpful. With "the last" I think it is easier - The prices have increased in the last month // implies again I would say 30 days, not a calendar month. – John V Apr 13 '18 at 13:52
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You're right, both possibilities are vague. I would argue that they are equally vague. There are no significant differences between using "next" and "in the next" if you want the time frame to be unclear.

If, however, you are concerned because you want the time frame to be more defined, it might be helpful for you to consider ways to add specificity. For example,

I will meet you one week from today.

For more great examples, see this post: "In the next two weeks" vs. "next two weeks"

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